Saturday, June 30, 2012

A question about Obamacare

Won't the health-care law encourage people not to have health insurance? You pay a tax that's less than what health insurance would have cost. Wait till you're seriously ill to buy it, and you'll be entitled to get it. In the past, people were more incentivized to get health insurance even if they were healthy, so they wouldn't run into the pre-existing condition problem.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Who's the loser after today's health-care ruling?

I don't know if today's decision upholding President Obama's health-care law was better for Obama or Mitt Romney. But there is a clear loser: almost every pundit in America.

Everyone who said the law should, or would, be held constitutional under the Commerce Clause was wrong. Everyone who said the law should, or would, be held unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause was also wrong. Almost no one got it right.

Ann Althouse (my mom) lists 3 ways that Obama is the real loser:

Romney has at least 3 big arguments:

1. Obama imposed a huge new tax on working people.

2. Obama deceived the American people by saying it was not a tax, when it was.

3. The law made it look like money would go to insurance companies — in the form of new premiums — that would keep premiums low as the companies were required to take on people with pre-existing conditions, but now we find out that the money is really going to go to the federal government.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Democrats for Gary Johnson

Terry Michael, who once served as a press secretary for the Democratic National Committee and has been a vocal supporter of the two-party system, explains why he's voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for president:

I don’t intend to change my registration. I’m still a Democrat. But I’m a small “l” libertarian Democrat, who wants to teach fellow Democrats that 21st century libertarians are not a bunch of selfish, Ayn Rand-style, greedy capitalists. Among the three issue frames of politics—economy, social, and foreign—most rank-and-file Democrats share much in common with modern libertarians. Most libertarians want to keep government out of our bedrooms, away from our bodies, and out of the backyards of the rest of the world. On the economy, while we are for limited spending, taxes, and regulation, we favor free markets—not oligarchic capitalism that uses government to re-distribute tax revenue to the military-industrial-congressional-media complex, the behemoth pharmaceutical companies, or other lobbyists along Washington’s K Street who seek benefits from government and regulations that put competitors at disadvantage. . . .

Gov. Gary Johnson balanced New Mexico’s budget all 8 years he served; he pledges to end the insanity in Afghanistan immediately; he is committed to legalizing drugs, to ending the government-induced black market that drives up profits and causes Mexican cartels to murder thousands, like the Al Capone murder and mayhem created by alcohol Prohibition. And he wants to end handouts to corporations that see the U.S. Treasury as a giant ATM, stocked with cash by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

I have been a slave to political pragmatism during my four decades in these 10 square miles surrounded by reality known as Washington, D.C. But this year, I encourage my Jeffersonian, classical liberal friends, in each party and neither, to send a simple message to both my party and the Republicans, in the form of votes for Gary Johnson.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The linguistic quirks of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

John McWhorter notices that Romney often says "gosh" and "gee":

“This was back, oh gosh, probably in the late ’70s,” he reminisced to a radio host about a steak house. Or, Romney surmised how his Mormonism would play out during his campaign with, “Oh, I think initially, some people would say, ‘Gosh, I don’t know much about your faith, tell me about it,’ ” as if his G-word fetish were the way just anyone talks these days. Or: Chris Wallace asked whether said faith might be a disadvantage in voter perceptions of him, and Romney exclaimed, “Gee, I hope not!” Then, Romney on carried interest—one is to “say, gosh, is this a true capital investment with a risk of loss?”
McWhorter, a linguist, gives this analysis:
Gee, gosh, and golly are all tokens of dissimulation. They are used in moments of excitement or dismay as burgherly substitutions, either for God and Jesus—words many religious people believe should not be “taken in vain”—or for words considered even less appropriate. . . . The medieval and even colonial Anglophones’ versions of profanity were to express dismay or vent pain by swearing—“making an oath”—to God or related figures considered ill-addressed in such a disrespectful way. The proper person at least muted the impact with a coy distortion, à la today’s shoot and fudge. . . . To increasing numbers of modern Americans, the G-words are unusable outside of quotation marks . . . .

The proscription against swearing “to God” has ever less force. I recall being taught it as a child in the ’70s but being quietly perplexed as to why and wondering what “in vain” meant. Since then, “ohmigod” has become an ordinary remark among even a great many churchgoers. The evasive essence of the G-words, redolent of the Beaver Cleaver 1950s Romney grew up in, has long been rejected as phony, out of line with the let-it-all-hangout essence of the culture. Indicatively, a Web search turns them up endlessly in ironic writing about Romney’s assorted evasions and half-truths during his campaign. The modern American, even if he or she has one of Romney’s Harvard degrees, often uses today’s version of profanity in the slots where Romney slides his G-words. A more, shall we say, vibrant translation of “Gee, I hope not” would be “Shit, I hope not,” and in “This was back, oh gosh, probably in the late ’70s,” “hell” would be substituted for the “oh gosh,” especially after a beer or two. Or, even in more buttoned-up moments, our versions of those sentences might include “Man, I hope not,” and especially for those under about 40, “Dude, I don’t know much about your faith.” Man and dude both reach out to the interlocutor seeking agreement. Man and dude are, at heart, solicitations—“You know what I mean, man/dude?”

This warmer, more personal way of speaking fits with a trend in American English during Romney’s lifetime, in which casual speech styles have occupied ever more of the space that used to be reserved for the more formal. Casual speech always has more room for the folksy reach-out than formal speech does: Witness the use of yo today among younger black people. “Them pants was tight, yo!” I once caught on the subway. The yo isn't the grand old call from a distance—Yo!—the guy’s friend was standing right there. This new yo appended to the ends of sentences has a particular function,reinforcing that you and your conversational partner are on the same page in terms of perspectives and attitudes.
Gee, I don't find the "G" words that odd. I would be much more taken aback if I heard a presidential candidate using "man" or "dude" that way. And surely McWhorter wouldn't seriously advise Romney to start using "yo," at any point in any sentence. By the way, although the headline and the body of the article mention the word "golly" — the squarest of the "G" words — McWhorter doesn't give any example of Romney using that word.

A commenter on TNR has a good catch:
This article misses the single most antiquated bit of English in Mitt's arsenal: the use of "why" as an interjection. As in, "Why, that's just about the best piece of pie I've ever had!" I think Ward Cleaver was literally the last person in America to use "why" this way. In 2012 it's at best naive-sounding and at worst creepy.
I agree that when Romney uses "Why . . ." at the beginning of an exclamation (instead of a question), he sounds like he's from a bygone era. We all know Romney isn't cool the way President Obama is.

However, though we'll never get tired of poking fun at the quirks of presidential candidates, I wonder whether it would be so bad to have a president whose speaking style is a bit out of touch. If that matters at all, it would mean he'd be slightly less adept at persuading people — either firing up his base, or winning people over to his point of view. If that's one of his main weaknesses, that might not be so bad. Our leaders shouldn't be too persuasive. Obama is so good at connecting — making you feel like he's talking directly to you — that it can be dangerous. After all, he has more power at his fingertips, including military and police forces, than anyone else in the world. People like Obama, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and Tony Blair can talk you into anything. I sort of prefer the square, stilted politicians like Romney, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore. To me, they seem more "real," because most normal people would not be very adept at convincing a nation of hundreds of millions that "I'm basically like you; we want the same things." Most ordinary citizens who tried to run for president would probably come off as wooden and unhip. The candidate who can connect with most people is actually unlike most people.

Back to McWhorter's article: he says that Obama has "more modern" verbal tics:
This is true not only in the dusting of black inflection he often uses for rhetorical purposes, but in a certain interjectional tic: a particular penchant for you know even in weighty contexts. You know steps outside of the formal, propositional box of a statement to solicit agreement from the listener, rather like a raising of the eyebrows or hands spread outward with palms upward. A dedicated Obama mimic could go a long way in sprinkling develop thoughtful statements with ample you know-age.
Actually, "you know" isn't so modern:
In 1998, I asked a 95-year-old linguist whether he remembered people using like in the hedging way they do now when he was a child, and he said that back then, you know was used in the same way. (I have since been told this by two other nonagenarians.) The difference is that Woodrow Wilson wasn’t given to saying you know in discussing the League of Nations.
I've been struck by how many of the people who appear on Bloggingheads, for instance, will constantly pepper their speech with "you know," which seems to be the erudite version of "like." [ADDED: A similarly refined substitute for "like" is "sort of."] They've learned that "you know" makes you sound thoughtful and academic, while "like" makes you sound like a teenager. We're supposed to look down on people who constantly use "like," while admiring the nuance of those who use "you know." But as far as I can tell, neither one is more or less meaningful than the other.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pet videos

1. Beagle vs. hog




2. Cat going down stairs

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cafe conversation

From the table next to me at The Grey Dog in Manhattan:

— Is she young-ish?

— No, she's not that young. She's 24.

— But she's young-ish.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The definition of insanity

Rent control in France.

(If you don't understand why this is a terrible plan, please read the first chapter of Economic Facts and Fallacies by Thomas Sowell, or the pages in the index entry for "rent control" in his Basic Economics.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How likely is it that the winner of the 2012 presidential election will lose the popular vote?

About 5%, according to Nate Silver at the New York Times:

One hypothesis might be that Mr. Obama enjoys some sort of intrinsic edge in the Electoral College — and that, like Mr. Bush in 2000, he could win the Electoral College while losing the nationwide popular vote.

Our analysis suggests, however, that this is not necessarily the case. The model’s simulations estimate that there is only about a 2 percent chance that Mr. Obama will win Electoral College while losing the popular vote. Meanwhile, there is only about a 3 percent chance that Mr. Romney will do so.
Silver forecasts that Obama has a 62% chance of winning re-election — much lower than the 80% chance that Obama would win if the election were held today.

Is Google making us stupid or smart?

Neither.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

Ray Bradbury has died at age 91.

Here's an interview with him (undated, but uploaded in 2008).

A thing that begins when you're 3 and 6 and 10 and 12 winds up in your fictions when you're in your 30s. . . .

The reason why my books are popular: because they know I'm a lover. . . .

Love what you do, and do what you love. Don't listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. . . .

I'm going to have a t-shirt made — it says: "Stand at the top of the cliff, and jump off, and build your wings on the way down."

We are all the sons and the daughters of time. So I thank the universe for making life on earth and allowing me to come alive here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The European and North American bubble

Mark Steyn writes:

[T]he unsustainable "bubble" is not student debt or subprime mortgages or anything else. The bubble is us, and the assumptions of entitlement. Too many citizens of advanced Western democracies live a life they have not earned, and are not willing to earn. Indeed, much of our present fiscal woe derives from two phases of human existence that are entirely the invention of the modern world. Once upon a time, you were a kid till you were 13 or so; then you worked; then you died. That bit between childhood and death has been chewed away at both ends. We invented something called "adolescence" that now extends not merely through the teenage years but through a desultory half-decade of Whatever Studies at Complacency U up till you're 26 and no longer eligible for coverage on your parents' health insurance policy. At the other end of the spectrum, we introduced something called "retirement" that, in the space of two generations, has led to the presumption that able-bodied citizens are entitled to spend the last couple of decades, or one third of their adult lives, as a long holiday weekend.

Any functioning society is like an orchestra. When the parts don't fit together, it's always the other fellow who's out of tune. So the Greeks will blame the Germans, and vice-versa. But the developed world is all playing the same recessional. In the world after Western prosperity, we will work till we're older, and we will start younger – and we will despise those who thought they could defy not just the rules of economic gravity but the basic human life cycle.